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Suozzi and Meli Head to Head on Glen Cove Ferry Project

Mayor Ralph V. Suozzi

Question:

Readers are writing in to the Record Pilot with questions about the ferry project.

• Some don’t know details about the construction - as in when is it due to be done, what does the design include?

• They also want to know if it is common to undergo such a project before an operator has committed. And, do we know yet what kind of service will be available from the terminal?

• Many are asking if this will stimulate the local economy and if it will benefit Glen Cove financially.

• Is the current plan a good one in your opinion?

Answer:

The Ferry Terminal is funded by several federal, state and county agencies with bi-partisan support from Congressman Peter King and Senator Charles Schumer. In July 2009, this project was declared “shovel ready” and was awarded $11 million in federal stimulus funding. This state-of-the-art transportation hub will boost the local economy by creating jobs and improving Glen Cove’s transportation access to the regional marketplace.

The project is designed in phases to maximize multiple federal and state grant opportunities. Phase 1, currently under way, consists of waterborne improvements including bulkhead, esplanade, floating docks, utilities and site preparation for the terminal building and parking and is scheduled for completion by winter 2012. Phase II (ferry terminal construction) is anticipated to begin next spring.

The ferry project is part of the private/public partnership between redeveloper RXR Glen Isle and the Glen Cove Industrial Development (IDA) and Community Development (CDA) Agencies.  It is common for municipalities to commence infrastructure improvements as funding becomes available, promoting private investment and expansion of services.

With federal stimulus funding in hand, the ferry project commenced immediately to satisfy federal timeline requirements. The City then initiated a Request For Expression of Interest (RFEI) and received positive responses from several ferry operators interested in providing future ferry service to and from the Glen Cove waterfront.

The process of selecting a future operator is directly tied to both the remaining ferry site construction schedule and the phasing of the waterfront build out. The ferry operation is integral to the RXR Glen Isle mixed-use waterfront redevelopment, a $1 billion private investment that will create approximately 3,500 construction jobs, and 830 new jobs upon completion.

The former “ferry” of a decade ago was really just an oversized privately-owned and operated party-boat intended to bring gamblers to a Connecticut casino and was not designed for commuters. The current ferry project, however, focuses on commuting and recreation with smaller fuel-efficient vessels and is aligned with a multi-faceted, multi-year development.  The goal of the new ferry will be to provide service to and from Manhattan and other prospective locations like Citifield, LaGuardia Airport, Rye Playland, ports in Connecticut, and Long Island destinations like Greenport, Patchogue and East End wineries.

The investment of $100 million in federal remediation projects at the 52-acre waterfront site has already stimulated our local economy, and continues to do so. The ferry project began with 4 years of environmental review that employed both private and public sector employees. It is a single component of a multi-year initiative that involves multiple federal, state, county and local government entities, private sector engineers, architects, planners, and contractors of a wide-variety of skills and disciplines. This type of economic activity contributes to the local and regional economy by providing jobs, private sector investment, and additional economic activity in support services and materials.

The project is a great plan as it re-establishes Glen Cove as a waterfront community, creating better transportation links to the entire region and a vibrant new neighborhood with significant public amenities.  Glen Cove is positively recognized throughout the region for these types of initiatives. The ferry project is but one part of a very complex and challenging waterfront revitalization plan that will continue to financially benefit Glen Cove with jobs, economic activity and an increased tax base.

Paul Meli

Question:

Readers are writing in to the Record Pilot with questions about the ferry project.

• Some don’t know details about the construction - as in when is it due to be done, what does the design include?

• They also want to know if it is common to undergo such a project before an operator has committed. And, do we know yet what kind of service will be available from the terminal?

• Many are asking if this will stimulate the local economy and if it will benefit Glen Cove financially.

• Is the current plan a good one in your opinion?

Answer:

Although most people associate the “ferry project” with development of our waterfront, not all realize that the city is building the estimated $16 million terminal, and will operate and maintain it after construction. Like many, the thought of a ferry conjures up in my mind an almost romantic image, one that you just want to like. History and economic realities, however, tell us that we must proceed with caution with a project that presents the financial risks that this one does.

That history, of course, is of failed ferry operations of which we are reminded when traveling to the end of Garvies Point Road where, on a now ignored, overgrown and broken “promenade,” there still sits an abandoned ferry terminal, a victim of vandals and graffiti artists, its windows, walls and fixtures shattered and torn.

Given this experience, the highly touted experts that Glen Cove hired in 2007 to study and plan a new ferry terminal told us that someone would be found to operate the ferry before construction of the terminal began. A little more than a year ago, however, we broke ground on the project, starting with the since-delayed bulkheading of the creek, and borrowing millions of dollars in the process, all without knowing whether someone would be found to profitably and efficiently run a ferry.

Faced with increased criticism, in February of this year, the city put out a Request for Expressions of Interest, asking that anyone with an actual interest in running a ferry in and out of Glen Cove advise thereof in April, and provide information such as their experience and the routs they proposed.

Although proposals were to then be solicited from those who responded, the mayor has refused to divulge what interest was expressed, what routes, if any, were proposed, or when proposals will be requested. Many months and millions after work began, therefore, we still do not know if there is a viable operator who can profitably operate a ferry, to Manhattan or elsewhere, all as promised by the city’s own consultant.

We cannot forget that, when first studied, the city’s consultant felt that a ferry’s chances of success would be enhanced by the nearby construction of 860 high-end condominiums. Under the waterfront developer’s new plan, however, the first phase of construction will be comprised only of 200-300 lower end rental units and subsidized housing, with an equal number to be built some three to five years thereafter. Yet the city has done no analysis regarding whether the tenants in these 400 to 500 apartments will be likely or able to utilize high cost ferry services.

It is recalled, as well, that the waterfront developers have deemed the existence of an affordable ferry service to Manhattan be crucial to the success of their project. Without having an operator, however, how can we even begin to know if that is feasible? What is our “exit” strategy if it is not, and who will bear the cost?

Given the past failure of similar projects, and the present economic climate, nothing would have been lost, and the risk of millions could have been avoided, had the mayor and council simply done what their own consultant said they should. The project is otherwise a rudderless ship, and still without a boat.